Do you think a lot about cleanliness? Do you know which city in Texas is rated as the dirtiest? The dirtiest city in Texas was ranked in 2023 based on a variety of metrics. Air, water, and land are all subject to a wide array of pollutants that can make living and thriving in certain areas incredibly difficult. In one Texas city, this problem seems to run rampant. A university in Switzerland – Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) – has developed an objective and fact-based system for measuring the cleanliness of any city. This system works based on a human perspective of cleanliness.
It is very hard to provide an overall metric for cleanliness. We’d have to constantly gauge air quality, and water quality, and assess other factors that are not quantifiable. One tactic is to record city streets and gauge the amount of trash and debris in locations across the city. Phsy.org has an article explaining the process more in-depth, and we used information from LawnStarter’s list of the dirtiest cities in America in 2023 to come to our conclusion. Without further ado, let’s dive in and check out the dirtiest city in Texas.
What is the Dirtiest City in Texas?
Houston, Texas, takes the cake for the dirtiest city in Texas. Further, it is also ranked as the dirtiest city in the entirety of the United States. LawnStarter used four categories for their rating – living conditions, pollution, infrastructure, and consumer satisfaction. The sample size for this study was originally 200 cities. 48 cities were eliminated from the comparison due to a lack of sufficient data. The final sample size was 152 cities, of which Houston had the highest ranking.
We’ll now look at what aspects of each category are appraised when deciding on the dirtiest cities in the United States. We will not provide Houston’s metrics for every category, but we will address its overall ranking at the end of these sections.
Living conditions are rated in nine categories. We have listed these categories directly from the LawnStarter website.
- Population Density (residents per square mile)
- Share of overcrowded homes
- Share of homes with no kitchen facilities
- Share of homes with no plumbing facilities
- Share of homes with mold
- Share of homes with signs of mice or rats
- Share of homes with signs of cockroaches
- Share of homes with sewage disposal breakdowns
- Unsheltered homeless rate (per 1,000 residents).
You can see from this list that a variety of factors are considered when appraising living conditions. Generally, clean conditions include proper and reliable sanitation sources, a lower population density, and spaces free of mold, rodents, and cockroaches. Homelessness is an important factor in this methodology because current society frequently – if not always – deprives our homeless citizens of access to most of these conditions.
Pollution is measured in five categories:
- Median Air Quality Index (AQI)
- Presence of water quality violations
- Greenhouse-Gas Emissions per capita (Metric Tons CO2e)
- Annual excess fuel consumption
- Percentage of smokers
When it comes to air quality, five California cities are tied for the worst in the United States. These cities were Riverside, San Bernardino, Fontana, Ontario, and Rancho Cucamonga. Anchorage, Alaska, and Honolulu, Hawaii have the best air quality ratings in the United States.
Infrastructure is measured based on six key metrics.
- Tons of waste in landfills per 100,000 residents
- Rating of state waste regulations and measures
- Refuse and recycling collectors per 100,000 residents
- Alternative fuel stations per 100,000 residents
- Number of junk yards
For this category, let’s look at the standouts for tons of waste. The worst two cities for this were Cincinnati, Ohio, and Murfreesboro, Tennessee, while Mobile, Alabama, and Tampa, Florida tied for the lowest tonnage of waste per 100,000 residents.
The final metric for dirtiest cities is consumer satisfaction. This is the most strange of the four categories because it is based on the opinion of residents in each city. Notedly, the residents of Houston felt better about their city than the next three dirtiest cities on the list. It seems there is a distinct difference between facts and feelings when it comes to the experience of pollution. This may be based on a lack of personal comparison. After all, if your garbage is successfully picked up and taken away every week, would you complain?
Regardless, this was measured in four categories. They are as follows:
- Share of residents who find their city dirty and untidy
- Share of residents dissatisfied with pollution
- Share of residents dissatisfied with garbage disposal
- Share of residents dissatisfied with greenery and parks.
When it comes to dissatisfaction, four of the top five worst-rated cities were in California. It can be argued that there is much more information regarding pollution in California than in other states, along with a much higher population density. Whether these cities topped the list due to facts or perceptions, they still rank among the worst in satisfaction in the nation. These cities include Bakersfield, San Bernardino, and Fresno. The only city outside of California that made the list was Newport News, Virginia. Cities with the lowest dissatisfaction were Rancho Cucamonga, California, Santa Clarita, California, and Fayetteville, North Carolina.
Combined Metrics and Results
You may have noticed that we haven’t listed Houston as among the worst in any of these categories. One of the reasons that we have four categories and several metrics is to total the experience at the end. A city ranking poorly in one category might rank incredibly well in another. On an overall average, Houston took the cake for “Dirtiest City in the United States”. The southern city had the third-highest rate of greenhouse gas emissions from large facilities (per capita) in the nation. Houston was also one of several states to violate the Safe Drinking Water Act one or more times in the most recent EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) data set (2020).
Other Metrics for “Dirtiest City”
It is important to acknowledge that there are many other ways of gauging a city’s cleanliness. For example, you can measure cleanliness by the number of consumer complaints, the number of high ozone days, water quality, and much more. Based on this set of metrics, The Zebra actually ranked New Orleans, Louisiana as the dirtiest city in America. However, even on this list, Houston broke the top 10 for dirtiest cities in the country – tying for sixth place.
The American Lung Association ranks Houston as the ninth dirtiest city by Ozone. The city is ranked 15th on their list of year-round particle pollution.
Finally, we checked with Forbes, who rates cleanliness on restaurant cleanliness, garbage disposal satisfaction, electric vehicle market share, hand sanitizer demand, and a few other metrics. According to their data, Philadelphia actually ranked as the dirtiest city in the nation. Houston did not make their top ten.
Risks of Pollution to Residents and Wildlife
People and wildlife struggle with a wide variety of health and safety factors when it comes to pollution. Air quality is a massive concern for many people, especially those with asthma and other breathing compromises. Street pollution is an issue for residents and wildlife – rabbits and other small animals often face poisoning, cancer, and death from discarded items such as cigarette butts. Oil spills and other noxious chemicals put surface water at risk and negatively impact our environment. Rivers fill with too many nutrients or chemicals, making them unsafe to swim in or drink from.
These studies of pollution and cleanliness exist for a reason – to highlight our downfalls and try to bring them to rights. Don’t write off Houston for being dirty. Celebrate Houston for the work it does or is trying to do to reduce its impact and move into the future.
Is Houston Really the Dirtiest City in Texas?
Based on the study that we chose to write about, yes, Houston is the dirtiest city in Texas. The Census Bureau reported it as having the largest cockroach problem in the city and it topped the charts in a variety of other categories, including air pollution and EPA violations. Other honorable mentions in the state are Dallas and San Antonio. It’s important to remember that these scores change by the year and by the actions of the people and governments of the city. For example, studies like these often help highlight the shortcomings of any given place and give the residents the opportunity to try to make a lasting change.
It’s also important to note that being at the top of this list, while discouraging, isn’t a condemnation of the city. Houston is filled with history, exploration, culture, delicious food, and much more. If you have the ability to visit for yourself, you may find that the outlook isn’t as bleak as studies say. Or, you may find a reason to fight to make this true. It is our participation, tax dollars, education, and work ethic that makes it possible to better our surroundings and build a brighter future for everyone.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Alexander Lukatskiy/Shutterstock.com
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